Andrew Gunn, owner of Iona Vineyards in Elgin, presented the opening address at the district’s second annual Chardonnay Colloquium, containing some heartfelt thoughts on the state of wine farming. Full transcript below:
Firstly our consumers, without you we don’t have a business. Jamie [Goode], great to have you back again with your vast knowledge on all aspects of the wine business. Michael [Fridjhon], you attended the first gathering of farmers at Iona going on for 20 years ago which led to the formation of the Elgin Wine Guild and the proliferation of vineyard plantings, it’s very appropriate that you are the first South African to be on the panel of the Colloquium.
The Elgin Wine Guild was formed with the prime objective of producing quality wines from Elgin, it is a voluntary organisation run, operated and funded by the members. To that end thank you Richard Kershaw, Liesl Cluver, Natalie van Almenkerk, Marion Smith and Leandri Gold for the time and effort in putting the Colloquium together.
All of the participants in the Colloquium are land owners in Elgin who farm their own vineyards apart from Neil Ellis who has been sourcing grapes in Elgin for more than 20 years and Julian Schaal.
We are farmers who have made a real commitment to South Africa, it’s not an easy business and I often feel our contribution is not fully appreciated. The solutions to South Africa’s problem are complex, made even more so by the incompetence and lack of clear direction from the government but that doesn’t mean we can’t make a difference in our own spheres of operation.
I can talk from experience having owned a business in Johannesburg where you greet your workers in the morning and say goodbye to them when you close up shop at the end of the day. You don’t know where they live, how long it takes them to get to work, what their social conditions are, etc.
Land is an emotive issue, and being a tangible, easy to use for political expediency. I don’t see home owners in Bishopscourt or the like feeling under pressure, but I do, as it’s very difficult to ignore the constant media and political bombardment. Good news doesn’t sell and it’s a pity more of the positives are not reported on.
I, like my fellow farmers treat our workers well, and although the daily wage is just one component of happy and content workers, my average wage is more than three times the minimum, we provide housing, pension funds, training and education for 20 families on our farm and have an equity participation scheme. My workers have a real sense of pride in their work and understand the valuable contribution they make to the quality of our wines. We treat them with dignity and respect. In a way we run a small country with all the financial, infrastructural and social issues that need to be managed to operate effectively.
The romantic notion of a wine farmer sitting on his veranda sipping the fruits of his endeavours is a fallacy. I have never worked harder in my life and faced as many challenges. It’s unrelenting, so why do we do it I asked my wife Rozy?
It’s because you get sucked into this constant endeavour to make better wines, we live, eat and sleep wine and the farming thereof.
The cogs grind slowly, you have to be resilient and patient, but what better place to do it in than the Elgin Valley with it’s perfect climate, multitude of aspects, altitudes and soil conditions, allowing the winemakers to produce beautifully balanced wines with minimum intervention in the cellar.
I trust you will enjoy this small part of the journey with us as we explore this wonderful grape variety. We’re not perfect and don’t claim to have all the answers so we encourage participation.
The root of colloquium is the Latin loqui, meaning “to talk” so let’s talk!!